It’s eight days and counting until Christmas and my son, Mike, and I who are the holiday cooks for our family, still haven’t decided on the menu! Since he is traveling quite a bit before the 25th, I’ve begun to make some choices and am starting by anchoring our meal with a superb potato and mushroom gratin. It is layered with thinly sliced Yukon Golds and earthy porcini mushrooms, covered with crème fraîche, and finished with a sprinkle of white cheddar and toasted bread crumbs.
This gratin would pair harmoniously with almost any traditional holiday main course. You could make it the star accompaniment to golden roasted turkey, a glistening glazed ham, succulent leg of lamb, or a regal standing rib roast or beef tenderloin.
The dried porcini mushrooms (or a combo of both porcini and chanterelles) can be reconstituted ahead, the cheese grated, and the bread crumbs toasted up to two days in advance. Peeling and slicing the spuds and an assembly is all that is necessary on serving day. You can even bake the casserole several hours ahead and then reheat it when needed.
I’m leaning toward a beef tenderloin with roasted tomatoes and goat cheese as a partner to the gratin. My son can pick the sides and starters. And, as usual, I’ll help set the table.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you!
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Golden Potato Gratin with Wild Mushrooms
1 tbsp unsalted butter for greasing the baking dish
2 oz dried mushrooms such as porcini or a combination of porcini and chanterelles
2 cups crème fraiche
1/2 cup half-and-half
3 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 1/2 tsp dried crushed rosemary
3/4 cup (3 to 4 oz) grated white cheddar
3 to 4 tbsp toasted breadcrumbs (Recipe follows.)
Fresh rosemary and thyme sprigs for garnish, optional
1. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 3 1/2- to 4-quart oven-to-table baking dish (a 9x13-inch dish works well).
2. Place the dried mushrooms in a medium bowl and cover with 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Let stand until softened, about 20 minutes. Strain the mushrooms over a bowl in a fine mesh sieve lined with paper towels, pressing down on them with a wooden spoon to release as much liquid as possible. Chop mushrooms into large pieces and set them aside. (Save the drained liquid for another use: you can add it to gravy or use it to deglaze a pan in which meat or poultry has been sautéed.)
3. In a medium bowl whisk together the crème fraîche and half-and-half.
4. Arrange one fourth of the potato slices in the bottom of the baking pan, overlapping them slightly. Season them generously with salt and pepper and with 1/2 teaspoon of the thyme. Sprinkle one third of the mushrooms over the layer and season them very lightly with salt and pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of the rosemary. Spread one-fourth of the crème fraiche mixture over the potatoes. Repeat to make 2 more layers. Make a final layer of potatoes, season them with salt, pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon thyme. Cover with a final layer of the crème fraîche mixture. Sprinkle with cheese, and cover the pan tightly with foil.
5. Bake the gratin 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees F and remove the foil. Continue to cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a sharp knife and top is golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes more.
6. Remove gratin from the oven and sprinkle 3 to 4 tablespoons of the toasted bread crumbs over the top. Let gratin stand 20 minutes before serving. If desired, garnish the gratin with a few rosemary and thyme sprigs. (The gratin is best when made and served within 20 minutes. However you can cook it up to 4 hours ahead and reheat it. Cool the gratin, cover loosely with foil, and leave at room temperature. Reheat, uncovered, in a preheated 350 degree F oven until hot, about 20 minutes.)
Toasted Bread Crumbs
Half of a good-quality peasant or country bread (sourdough works particularly well) with crusts removed
1 tbsp olive or canola oil
1. In a food processor, process enough slices to make 1 cup coarse crumbs.
2. Heat the oil in a medium, heavy frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add crumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until crisp and rich golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. (Store the bread crumbs in a plastic self-sealing bag and refrigerate for up to one week.)
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2016